How to Do a Japanese Accent?

Japanese accent is very nuanced and has distinct differences from a regular English accent. In this article, we’ll overview how to speak with a convincing Japanese English accent and you’ll find lots of phrases and examples you can practice with.

Replace Your “An” Sounds with “Ah” Sounds

If you have spoken to a Japanese English speaker, you must have noticed that they distinctly replace their “an” sounds with the “ah” sounds.

In other words, they use short and clean syllables. So, a Japanese person would pronounce ‘Japan’ as ‘Jah-pahn.’

Here is an example to help you understand better: the sentence “I could hear the anger in his voice” would be pronounced as “I could hear the aahn-gah in his voice” in a Japanese accent.

Also, if you are an anime fan but pronounce ‘Naruto’ as ‘Na-roo-toh’ and ‘Gaara’ as ‘ga-ra,’ it is safe to say that the Japanese natives will disown you! You would pronounce these words in a Japanese accent as ‘Naah-luh-toh’ and ‘Gah-lah.’

The same rule applies to words as simple as ‘slant’ and as technical as ‘nanotechnology,’ which are pronounced as ‘slah-nt’ and ‘nahno-technology’ in a Japanese English accent.

Pronounce Your “R’s” Like “L’s”

Take a look at the anime example I mentioned above again. You would notice that I replaced the “r’s” with “l’s.” Well, this isn’t a mistake or typo, but an essential consideration to mastering the Japanese accent.

So, using the same example, you wouldn’t pronounce ‘Gaara’ as ‘Gaa-rar,’ but say ‘Gaah-lah’ instead.

Similarly, the Japanese don’t declare something ‘right,’ or ‘wrong,’ but ‘light,’ or ‘long.’ The same rule applies to words like ‘air,’ ‘arrow,’ ‘berry,’ ‘burnt,’ and ‘return.’ When speaking in a Japanese accent, you would pronounce these words as ‘ail,’ ‘all-ow,’ ‘bel-y,’ ‘bulnt,’ and ‘letuh-ln.’

Keeping this rule in mind, the sentence: “I am sorry for being rude to you” would be delivered as “I am sol-ly for being lude to you” in a Japanese accent.

Pronounce “L’s” like “R’s”

The most confusing thing about the Japanese accent is that they pronounce their “l’s” like “r’s.” Yep!

So, a Japanese person would say ‘race’ instead of ‘lace’ and ‘row instead of ‘low.’ The same rule applies to words with “l” in the middle. For example, ‘allow’ would be pronounced as ‘arrow’ in a Japanese English accent. One thing to remember here is to tap your “r’s” instead of rolling them like they do in an RP English accent.

Words with both “l” and “r” in them, like ‘really,’ ‘regular,’ and ‘relatively,’ are a headache for people with Japanese accents to pronounce.

The “Ur” Sounds Convert into the “Ar” Sounds

Another distinct characteristic of the Japanese English accent is how they pronounce their “uh” sounds. If you notice closely, they transform the “ur” sounds into “ar” sounds.

So, someone with a Japanese English accent would say ‘surfing’ instead of ‘surfing.’ Following the same rule, ‘return’ is pronounced as ‘retarn,’ ‘burn’ changes into ‘baarn,’ and ‘hurt’ converts to ‘haart.’

Here is an example of incorporating this rule in everyday sentences. Consider the sentence, “She was dressed in a long fur coat.” You would deliver the sentence in a Japanese English accent as “She was di-lessed in a long faar coat.”

Now, if you notice closely, all the examples that I have mentioned above have “ur” in the middle of the word. But does the same rule apply to words possessing the “ur” sound at the beginning and the end? Of course, it does!

Suppose you were to say, “His medical condition requires urgent treatment.” You would deliver the sentence in a Japanese accent as “his medical condition requires aargent treatment.”

Pronounce Your “E” Sound As “Oo” or “U”

When listening to a Japanese person speaking English, you would observe that they convert their “e” sounds in words into “oo” or “u.”

Under this rule, the words’ yesterday,’ ‘interest,’ and ‘property’ get pronounced as ‘yes-tur-dei,’ ‘inturust,’ and ‘propurtie.’

Likewise, you would pronounce ‘powerful’ as ‘powur-ful,’ and ‘internal’ as ‘inturnal’ in a Japanese English accent.

So, if you were to say, “He was tired and had trouble staying alert while driving at night,” in a Japanese English accent, you would say: “He was tiled and had tlouble staying alurt while dliving at night.”

Add an extra “U” Syllable at the End of the “G’s” and “K’s”

When speaking in a Japanese accent, you would have to add an extra “u” syllable after the “g” and “k” sounds.

So, if you were to say ‘surfing,’ you would pronounce it as ‘saar-fingu.’ Notice how this pronunciation differs from the RP English accent, where you delicately pronounce the word as ‘sur-fing.’

Take a look at this sentence for reference: “Yesterday, I went rock climbing with my friends.” You would deliver this sentence in a Japanese accent as: “Yes-tur-dei, I went locku climbing with my fliends.”

Notice how I incorporated two other rules that we have discussed before in this example.

Adding the extra “u” syllable at the end of your “g’s” and “k’s” can be difficult, but you can always practice these words to perfect:

  • bag
  • big
  • asking
  • mug
  • adding
  • attack
  • brick
  • brink
  • break
  • chalk
  • neck

Tap Your “T’s”

The Japanese English speakers don’t emphasize the “t” sound; instead, they tap their “t’s.”

Here is a list of words you can practice to perfect the “t” sound in a Japanese accent:

  • better
  • water
  • thirty
  • computer
  • trip
  • trap
  • interesting
  • twenty
  • centre

The Japanese Take on English Consonants

Japanese English speakers confuse consonant sounds and use them interchangeably in a sentence. “V” and “b” are two of the most common English consonants interchanged in Japanese accents.

For instance, a Japanese person would pronounce ‘video’ as ‘bideo’ and ‘avoid’ as ‘aboid.’ Likewise, ‘voluntary’ becomes ‘boloontaarie” in a Japanese accent.

Similarly, the Japanese pronounce “f” as “v” and vice versa. The most typical reason for this confusion is similar mouth positions.

When pronouncing both “v” and “f,” air gradually fills the space between your upper teeth and bottom lip. The only difference between “v” and “f” is that the former has a voice and the latter doesn’t.

Focus On Word Stress

The emphasis and rhythm of words when speaking English have a massive impact on their understandability. Multi-syllable English words have one stressed syllable, whose pitch is comparatively higher and is more stressed than the others.

However, Japanese English speakers have notably flatter word stress and rhythm than native English speakers. This is because the rhythm in Japanese is relatively even and flat; each word receives the same amount of stress or pitch.

Interchange the “Ch” Sound for the “Sh” Sound

The Japanese English speakers also swap their “ch” sounds with the “sh” sounds.

For instance, the word ‘approach’ is pronounced as ‘aaproush’ in a Japanese accent.

You can master the “ch” and “sh” sounds in the Japanese accent by practicing this list of words:

  • chair becomes shair
  • chase becomes shaa-ze
  • beach becomes bee-cha
  • catch becomes caa-shu
  • lunch becomes launsh
  • child becomes shaildu
  • cheetah becomes sheetah
  • speech becomes speesha
  • shape becomes chape
  • chef becomes ch-ef
  • wash becomes wach-uh
  • trash becomes traa-shu
  • shy becomes ch-ai

The Vowel-Consonant Structure

Japanese has fewer consonants and vowels than English. For example, the Japanese language doesn’t have the “si” sound.

Thus, instead of saying ‘six,’ the Japanese people say “shi.” Following the same rule, ‘see’ and ‘she’ are allotted the same pronunciation ‘, shee,’ in the Japanese English accent.

Practice Makes a Man Perfect

The best way to master the Japanese English accent is by speaking it out loud. Repeat what you hear, paying close attention to the highs and lows of the accent. It’s a terrific idea to record your voice when speaking in a Japanese accent and, if feasible, listen to the difference between it and a native speaker.

It might be challenging to hear your pronunciation problems when speaking aloud. However, you can quickly identify your areas of difficulty by recording yourself and listening to the clip.

Shadow the Japanese Accent

Shadowing, a technique invented by American professor and multilingual Alexander Arguelles, is just the act of rapidly echoing what a native speaker says. Any level of Japanese English accent learner can use this strategy to gain command over the accent.

5 Steps to Shadow the Japanese English Accent:

  1. Find an audio clip at your level
  2. Listen to the audio a few times repeatedly
  3. Read the audio transcript
  4. Listen to the audio while simultaneously reading the transcript
  5. Read aloud while playing the audio
  6. Pay Close Attention to the Difficult Sounds

Fortunately, there aren’t many challenging sounds in Japanese, but there are a couple you should practice when learning the Japanese English accent.

For example, the “r” sound has a pitch that falls between an L and an R. Likewise, Japanese grammar has fewer vowels, so you would need to pay proper attention to the English vowels when speaking in Japanese infused English accent.

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